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Blessing of the animals fills L.A.'s Olvera Street

All manner of fauna come out for the annual blessing, filling the cobblestone plaza on Holy Saturday with the sweet smell of fresh hay and manure.

April 24, 2011|By Jason Felch, Los Angeles Times
  • Nena keeps an eye on a stranger at the 81st annual blessing of the animals on Olvera Street in Los Angeles.
Nena keeps an eye on a stranger at the 81st annual blessing of the animals… (Genaro Molina, Los Angeles…)

In Genesis, God gave man dominion over the fish of the sea, over the fowl in the air, over the cattle and "every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth."

On Saturday, man thanked the animals for drawing that lot.

There were llamas, goats, geese and sheep. Parakeets, iguanas, goldfish and geckos. Turtles, horses, doves and a 25-pound albino python.

And there were dogs. Hundreds of dogs. Dogs in tutus, leis and bunny ears. Dogs in bows and ribbons and T-shirts that read "Momma's Boy."

They had come out on hoof, foot and paw for the annual blessing of the animals on downtown's Olvera Street, filling the cobblestone plaza on Holy Saturday with the sweet smell of fresh hay and manure.

The tradition goes back 81 years in Los Angeles but is rooted in an ancient ritual of thanks for beasts of burden. San Antonio de Abad, the patron saint of the animal kingdom, is credited with starting the tradition in the 4th century.

In those days, masters were hoping for divine assistance with their animals' fertility and health. These days, caretakers have different requests.

"I'm hoping he'll be potty-trained earlier," said Veronica Lopez of El Sereno, who brought her silky Yorkie, Napoleon Bonaparte.

"We'll be happy if she calms down a bit," said Ramona Dawkins of Long Beach, who brought her Chihuahua, Poppy, to be blessed.

That sentiment was echoed by Leannah and Maddy Barreto, 9 and 7 years old, of El Sereno, whose 5-month-old Australian cattle dog, Hunter, had trouble settling down. Their Aunt Laura, who brought them, had come to the event years ago to have her Blackie blessed.

Toby Carrasco of Highland Park carried her 15-year-old Mack (The Knife) with the hope that a blessing might ensure a peaceful twilight of his life. Mack was dressed in the brown habit and red cross of that other great lover of animals, St. Francis of Assisi.

And as always, there were the friends and members of the Zorthian family, whose 48-acre ranch in Altadena has been home to a menagerie since the 1950s. They brought with them horses, geese, goats and two recently rescued llamas.

"My family has been coming here for over 50 years," said Seyburn Zorthian, who jokingly refers to the event as the "stressing" of the animals. "We grew up with pigs and chickens and horses and goats."

Saturday marked the first blessing of the animals for Archbishop Jose H. Gomez, who took over the largest Catholic archdiocese in the nation from Cardinal Roger Mahony in February.

"The animals were the first ones to become aware of the resurrection," Gomez reminded the crowd in his opening remarks.

Speaking first in Spanish, then English, he recited from Scripture. Then he dipped what looked like a large brush into a plastic yellow bucket and dispersed holy water onto what seemed like an endless procession of pets and people.

jason.felch@latimes.com

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